Now that the Planning (Scotland) Act has received Royal Assent, a key focus of the Scottish Government will be preparation of the next National Planning Framework.
The Act contains significant changes to the NPF:
The status of the NPF will be elevated, from material consideration, to part of the “development plan”, together with the local development plan.
There is now a planning purpose for the preparation of the NPF:
to manage the development and use of land in the long term public interest.
That includes anything which contributes to sustainable development, or achieves the national outcomes within the meaning of Part 1 of the Community Empowerment Act.
Consistency between plans
The requirement for the LDP to “take into account” the NPF is unchanged, and there is no requirement for the LDP to be consistent with the NPF.
If there is an incompatibility between the NPF and the LDP, whichever is later in date prevails.
The potential to adopt an LDP which does not comply with the NPF is limited, however, as the recommendations of a reporter from the LDP examination remain binding on the planning authority, except in very limited circumstances. If there is an objection on grounds of non-compliance with the NPF, the weight the reporter gives to the NPF will therefore be crucial.
The preparation of the NPF is to “have regard to” an adopted Regional Spatial Strategy, although it seems likely that the next NPF will precede the first RSSs.
The Act is silent on what happens if the NPF is incompatible with a Regional Spatial Strategy or Local Place Plan, but the starting point would be preference to the NPF, given its “development plan” status. The Act does state that the preparation of a LPP must “have regard to” the NPF.
The Scottish Ministers must review the NPF no later than 23 June 2024, and thereafter every 10 years (previously 5 years). The Ministers have announced their intention to move forward with preparing NPF4 and will be providing more information about the process over the summer. They have also said that NPF4 will incorporate Scottish Planning Policy, underlining the importance of NPF4.
The NPF cannot be adopted until a draft of it has been approved by resolution of the Parliament.
Content and scope
The content of the NPF is expanded to include:
- Targets for the use of land in different areas for housing
- Meeting the housing needs, in particular for older people and disabled people
- improving health and well-being of people
- increasing rural population
- improving equality and eliminating discrimination
- meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets, and
- securing positive effects for biodiversity
In preparing the NPF, the Scottish Ministers are to have regard to the desirability of:
- resettling rural areas that have become depopulated
- preserving disused railway infrastructure
- preserving peatland
Elevating the status of the NPF to part of the “development plan” will increase the influence of central government.This is particularly important, as the NPF is to include housing targets, which were previously set by local authorities in their Strategic Development Plans/ LDPs. It remains to be seen whether that de-politicises the process. Given the complexity of the topic, it is a concern that examination will be by the Scottish Parliament, rather than an independent and expert reporter.
Replacement every 10 years will make it more difficult to keep the NPF up to date (earlier review is possible, but unlikely unless there are fundamental changes in circumstances). In England in recent years, uncertainty was caused by use of ministerial statements to amend planning policy, pending review of the National Planning Policy Framework (now published) – hopefully the Scottish Ministers will avoid taking a similar approach.